Thousands of South Women Flock to Illinois Abortion Clinics as Ban is Put in Place

by Ryan Lee
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Dr. Colleen McNicholas was in the middle of her work when her phone suddenly started ringing. She looked surprised, then ran to another room to answer it. The day before, 58 women had visited the Planned Parenthood clinic near St Louis and that day could be even busier – there were appointments for around 100 abortion and family planning patients! Every day at this clinic is very busy!

Every week, many women travel far to Illinois so they can get an abortion. But sadly, there are millions of people living in 11 states in the South who don’t have access to the same thing because their state laws don’t let them end their pregnancy.

When people go to the clinic in a state that is friendly to abortions, they face one more obstacle. People who are against abortions stand outside the gates wearing bright yellow shirts and try to convince them not to get an abortion.

Waiting for an abortion has become more difficult since last year’s Supreme Court ruling—even after workers started taking shifts 10 hours long, and the center opened on Saturdays.

“Whenever we make a court case or create a new rule about abortions, some states will try to limit how much access to it there is. That’s why we are always trying to figure out ways to make more room for people who might have to leave their home state because of these laws,” said McNicholas.

At the clinic, they think more people will need abortions this year so they plan to open up on Sundays. Some patient rooms were changed from birth control consultations or vasectomies to make more room for abortions. They even made a special mobile clinic out of an RV (a big van) and it can travel around different states where doctors can provide abortions too. Even with these plans, there still won’t be enough space for everyone who needs help!

The lady is keeping an eye out on a six-week abortion ban happening in Florida. This means that more women from the South might have to travel far up North to get abortions. Meanwhile, she’s also watching closely how a Texas judge decides a case involving the abortion pill mifepristone.

She said: “Any decision made can really change the demand for abortions again. It feels like dealing with different types of emergencies each day of the year!”

In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott had recently signed a law which closed some abortion clinics. This caused a lot of people from Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas to hurry over to places such as Planned Parenthood and Hope Clinic in order to get abortions. These places soon got very busy! To help out-of-state patients with their travel needs, the clinics opened up something called a “regional logistics center” in January 2022. The center pays for things like hotel stays, flights, gas money, buses rides or rental cars so that those needing the services can get there in time.

Just half a year after, on June 24th, the Supreme Court made specified that it is not allowed to make abortions with laws. States like Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas reacted quickly by making new laws that blocked abortions.

Every day around 70 women call a center for help getting to an abortion clinic in southern Illinois. At the center, someone (called a navigator) will talk to them about what they can pay and other things such as how they are going to travel, if they have money for food while they stay there and do they need child care.

When someone cannot afford to pay for things like hotels, buses or planes, the center will take care of booking it for them and also ask more than 30 different organizations around the country to help fund the trip. That is not all they do though!

The staff at the medical center is there every hour of the day to help people who have travel problems. For example, they got a ride for one patient in the middle of the night because they were escaping an abusive partner. They also made sure another person was able to take a trip south to Illinois when their car broke down. And during winter, when it’s hard to travel, they made sure someone could get back home and be with their family on Christmas after having an abortion.

Shannon said that a lot of people in the Southern region need help with things like travel and procedure costs. That’s why two new abortion clinics opened near Carbondale, Illinois to give women in banned states a more conveniently-located option.

After reading the Supreme Court’s opinion last May, Andrea Gallegos from Alamo Clinic used Google to search for cities in rural parts of southern Illinois which usually support liberal-thinking.

She said that Illinois was different from other states and would most likely not ban abortion so it sounded like the perfect place to go.

Last November, Alamo Clinic moved to that area from Oklahoma.

Every week, three doctors come to the clinic from Montana, Tennessee or Texas. Here, they do about 30 abortions a day for patients who are up to 18 weeks pregnant. Gallegos obtained data that shows less than 5% of the patients visiting this clinic are from Illinois.

The Fairview Heights clinic saw a lot of people from other places in the last 6 months. 2,042 patients came to the clinic for an abortion from somewhere outside Missouri or Illinois. This is almost 7 times more than the 314 people who had come there before that time.

At Planned Parenthood Clinic, abortions can be done until 26 weeks. And out of these patients, around 25 percent come for a need of second trimester abortion.

The hardest change at the clinic has been dealing with more and more kids who want to end their pregnancies because they are the result of rape or abuse. Before, it used to be very rare– maybe just 1-2 cases per year with 10 or 11-year-olds. Now there’s a couple cases each month from all over the country! It’s really heartbreaking knowing how many people have gone through so much trauma.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is helping Big Big News to deliver news on public health matters. The AP is the only one responsible for making all of this content.

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